RWA National Conference Pitching Tips! #WriterWednesday

I know there’s probably a few of you out there right now, already thinking (sweating, panicking, nail biting) about pitching at RWA National Conference this summer. I know at this time last year, I was so panicked when I thought about my upcoming pitches, that I would force it from my mind and work on perfecting my manuscript instead. But guess what? Time goes by and before you know it, you’re at the conference and waiting for your turn to pitch!

If you want to read about my pitch experience, you can find it HERE.

This year, I thought I’d offer a couple of tips that will hopefully be helpful to someone. I’m by far no expert. But I have pitched at nationals and I do feel I was successful with it. So here goes!

1. Practice your pitch. That’s pretty obvious right? I didn’t want to practice my pitch. I felt really silly saying it to my kids and my husband. But I should have. I should have pitched it as many times as I could before I went. Luckily, I pitched it to my colleagues at my local RWA group. We had a little ‘pretend pitch’ session hosted by a couple of our more seasoned members who’d been through it before. It was so helpful!! And I’ll just go ahead and admit it now before one of my chapter mates pops on here with a comment about it…I pitched to my RWA girls at our meeting and…I SUCKED!!! No, seriously. I really, really sucked. LOL. I rambled. I looked at my notes then lost my place. I had to start over. I spoke not just fast, but super fast. I didn’t look at my pretend agent and I completely forgot to smile. OMG, I could not have done worse!!

Thank God I got that out of the way at the RWA meeting instead of in the pitch room at the conference. Whew. Dodged a bullet on that one.

2. Be prepared to answer questions. During your study period before hand, ask yourself a few questions: What is your character’s motivation? What is their goal? How do they grow and change over the course of the book? Who are your secondary characters? Is there any potential for a series? And any other questions you can think of in advance. You don’t need to make a ton of notes or memorize a bunch of facts. Just be aware that an editor/agent may had questions and you’ll need to think on your feet.

3. Do your research in advance. Hopefully you didn’t just pick people to pitch to at random. Either way, you should research the editor/agent to see what they’re looking for, who their current authors are and how you think your book can fit in with their business.

4. Once you get to RWA National Conference, talk to as many strangers as you can. Not only is this a great place to socialize and network, it’s a great way to practice getting comfortable speaking to people about your book. I was so nervous the first day of the conference that I could barely leave the side of the few writer friends I knew there. But I forced myself to sit with people I didn’t know. I forced myself to say hello to people I rode the elevators with. And any time someone asked me about what I had written, I got to practice my pitch! That was awesome. It was less stressful if I screwed up and it helped me figure out what people responded to in my pitch. So by the time my actual pitch appointments came around, I felt more like I was just talking to another person at the conference and less like I was talking to someone who could make or break my career.

5. Wear something you feel good in. I don’t mean get all fancy or wear your favorite sweatpants that should have been thrown out ten years ago. I mean pick something you like from your wardrobe that makes you feel good about yourself. If you feel good, you’ll show it in your body language, in your facial expressions and in your attitude.

6. When you’re in the pitch room holding area…aka the most terrifying place on earth…sit by yourself or with strangers. Don’t sit by your BFF unless it’s going to help your relax and focus. Unless of course your BFF is there to distract you and therefore keep you calm. However, I still suggest sitting on your own if you can. Use the time to focus, go over your notes one more time or just concentrate on breathing. It’s very easy to forget you still need oxygen to flow to your brain while waiting to pitch. Deep breath in, slow breath out. Repeat. Find your pitching Zen.

7. Be yourself. I know it’s hard when you’re nervous and you’re trying to impress someone important and all, but really, they’re people too. Don’t forget that. I think the best pitch I did was the one where I connected with an editor (a dream editor!) about one of her other authors. I loved one of her author’s series and shared with the editor how I thought my series was the same and uniquely different. After that, I felt like I was chatting with a friend. I relaxed. I laughed. I acted like myself. And the editor responded well to that. I’m not saying all of them will, but the one I sat with did. She even made a huge request and a suggestion that set in motion a lot of great things for me!

Be yourself but you also need to be professional. Be polite and courteous. Be friendly and respectful. Smile and shake their hand when you arrive at the table. Have a business card handy to give them so they have something to remember you by. I also suggest having a pen handy so that when they hand you their business card and request materials, you can quickly jot down on the back of the card what was requested since you may not remember when you leave the room.

8. If you can help it, don’t read from notes. I made note cards so that I had them if I totally blanked, but honestly, I didn’t even bring them out of my bag. I probably didn’t say exactly what was on the cards—Who am I kidding? I know I didn’t!—but I didn’t need to say that stuff. It was the prep work. Imagine it like you’re studying for an exam. You can make the notes, write out cue cards or whatever else you want to do to memorize something, but in the end, it’s just you in that room. YOU know your book better than anyone else. Talk about the things you love about it and that make it special. Even if it’s not perfect, it will be okay.

9. Keep it short and sweet. Pitching is not the time to sit down and read your five-page synopsis to the editor/agent. Yes, you worked so hard on it and it tells everything anyone ever needed to know about your book, but it’s too much! This pitch is longer than your one or two sentence log line, but it’s not your synopsis. Think about the blurb you read on the back of a published book. You want something like that-ish. Not too long, not too short. Give enough details to paint the picture of what your book is about, but not so much that the editor or agent is going to need a nap after meeting with you. And make sure you leave time for the editor/agent to ask you any questions they might have. This appointment is a two-way conversation.

10. Snag an extra appointment. If you missed out on getting an appointment with one of your dream editors/agents, you may be able to snag an spot—if it’s the same this year as it was last. Last year, while I waited in between appointments (I think I had 30-40 minutes or so between) I was able to step in for an additional appointment with an editor when they had an open spot. The lady running the holding area yelled for a fill in and I jumped at the opportunity. But be warned, you need to make sure you have enough time to do that before your real appointment. If you’re not in the holding room when they call your name, they’ll offer it up to someone else who is waiting!

Anyone else have any other tips to offer up? Share them in the comments!!


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6 pings

  1. Moriah Densley says:

    Heather, Glad I finally stopped by your blog. Wow! It’s fantastic! I loved this article, thanks for posting it. I have two appointments at this year’s RWA conference, and I’m shaking in my boots. At least now I know what to expect…

    1. Heather says:

      I’m sure you’ll do great! Enjoy the conference. I wish I was going this year, but can’t make it with our summer schedule. Oh well. Next year maybe.

  2. denysecohen says:

    Good luck Heather and Moriah. I’m sure you’ll do excellent, blow their minds away.

    1. Heather says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Denyse.

  3. Beth Yarnall says:

    I shared your tips with my local chapter as we’ll be focusing our next meeting on RWA conference prep. We finally have a national conference in our backyard! Thanks for the great blog post.

  4. Libby Mercer says:

    Heather, thanks so much for this fabulous post! Really helpful (and reassuring). I’m pitching with my dream agent at RWA this year and am definitely already on edge…

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